Re: aspect of present tense

Jonathan Robie (
Thu, 12 Dec 1996 08:59:11 -0500

At 06:53 PM 12/12/96 EST, KULIKOVSKY, Andrew wrote:

>"I am a software engineer" uses a present tense indicative verb but
>this statement not only refers to my current state, it also refers
>to my past state - I was a software engineer yesterday as well -
>and my future state - I will be a software engineer tomorrow (Lord
>willing) - although I'd like to be a Greek Prof one day!
>This statement is also true when I started saying it and when I
>finished saying it.
>Taking a Biblical example, when Jesus said "I am" it means "I am" and
>"I was" and "I will be".
>Remember Einstein - time is relative.

And now the question: relative to what?

Mari's thesis says that it is actually relative to two different things:

1. the time of the statement (deictic center)
2. the time of the depiction, i.e. the time of the "view" of the action

The first is what tense is all about, the second is what aspect is all
about. Let me abandon her terminology and use my own: aspect is like the
"view" of the narrative (and is, in fact, a translation of the Russian word
for eye) - e.g. do you see an event in progress, or an accomplished act?

Mari talks about three features which characterize the time sense of verbs,
and these features characterize classes of verbs (c.f. Fanning) e.g.:

Aspectual class         Telic      Dynamic      Durative        Examples
State                                              +            know, have
Activity                              +            +            run, paint
Accomplishment            +           +            +            destroy
Achievement               +           +
Semelfactives                         +                         cough, tap
Stage-level states        +                                     be sick

The word know, for instance, inherently depicts a present state resulting
from a past action - but isn't this the traditional interpretation of the
perfective tense?

So there is a time sense in the meaning of the verb itself, a time sense
related to tense, a time sense related to aspect, and any number of time
senses in the context surrounding any particular verb. Mari says that the
complete sense of a text must take all of these into account, that there are
rules which govern how these senses combine, and that one of the best
techniques for finding these rules is to see which time senses can be
cancelled by conflicting time senses found in the context and which ones can
not. To do that, we have to examine the corpus.


I am also a software engineer, incidentally...there seem to be a lot of us
in B-Greek.

Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
email:, <--- shockwave enabled!